July 9, 2015

Riotism: A Movement for the post-Christian West

Riotism Ri/o/ti(s)m noun:

  1. A subversive church community defined by a singular and holy commitment to Jesus and the faith once for all delivered to the saints as revealed by God through his Holy Word.                                                                                                                           
  2. An exuberant church community defined by a joyful and outwardly-focussed desire to share the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed with those who are lost, dying, hurting and rebellious.

Example of Riotism: These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also….and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. (Acts17:6)


The western church of the early-mid twenty-first century will be a movement committed to what I call Riotism. It will have to be, or it risks not being a church at all. Riotism is defined by a traditional understanding of salvation and the Bible, and a shameless assent to the credal statements of the early Church. It is defined by a firm, and courageous rejection of the new morality espoused by the world; a new morality, sadly,  being chased helter-skelter down the street by post-evangelical Christians in a vain attempt to prove just how right-on they are. So what do I mean by Riotism? Is it worth another neologism in times such as this, when everyone is trying to find something new to say? Here are some thoughts: Riotism: not Pietism

Riotism is no keep-it-to-yourself club that bunkers down, tips its lid to the world and tries to avoid trouble.  It is no “search within” Christianity that is content to let the world go to hell in a handcart, whilst sitting around the parlour fire reading Pilgrim’s Progress.

Riotism understands full well that wherever Jesus is proclaimed as Lord, the Caesar-du-jour is being challenged.  Riotism, whilst not going out of its way to placard and shout, establishes an alternate community within the wider community whose practices and values are not only strange to that wider community, but hostile in their very implications.  Not hostile in manner or approach, but by the fact they challenge every other Lordship, and refuse to be co-opted to Caesar’s cause.  Riotism should be misunderstood, mistrusted, misinterpreted, mistakenly attributed for evil, and missed  like crazy should it up stakes and leave the neighbourhood.

Now the book of Acts is at pains to point out that wherever the gospel went in the Graeco-Roman world, it did not bring trouble, but it certainly caused trouble.  How so?  By placarding?  By subversion? By insurrection? No, by a pronouncement that Jesus – who had suffered under Rome’s brutal hand – was indeed Israel’s Scripturally promised, yet rejected King who was destined to take over the world.

The primary announcement of Riotism is the public pronouncement that Jesus is king.   The primary expression of Riotism is the public gathering of his subjects. Will that bring trouble?  You betcha. Don’t think for one minute that Riotism will let you off  with a hall pass when the Caesars-of-the-day come a’knockin’.  When the new post-Christian morality demands sign-up or else.  When the consumer culture requires we neglect the shocking treatment of both refugees AND the unborn. When aggressive secularism requires us to practice “freedom of religion” as long as it is contained within a building.

Riotism: not Fundamentalism

I have been accused in my writings recently of calling for a head-for-the-hills fundamentalism.  As if somehow the gated compound will keep away the influences of the big bad world.  Riotism is nothing of the sort. In fact, it is exactly the opposite.  It is determined to be a city on a hill, not a village in the hills: Determined to be salt of the land, not use salty language towards those who disagree.

Riotism is determined to shine a light that will bring glory to God, either in this life as people respond to the gospel Riotism declares, or in the age to come when every rebellious knee will be forced to the ground, and Jesus is declared Lord through gritted teeth.

Hence, for example, in the  current, and increasingly toxic SSM debate (a loose term to describe it  – Ed), Riotists will refute any claim that they are “homophobic bigots”.   Riotism won’t blink when accusations fly thick and fast.  And they won’t despair as brothers and sisters, and church communities drop like flies around them, signing up for the new morality for the sake of peace with Caesar.  Riotists will calmly, but firmly, refute the notion that there are only seven verses about homosexuality and they’re all uncertain anyway. Rather they will point to the veritable Amazon of biblical sexuality, all flowing in the direction of an ocean called heterosexual monogamous marriage, and all enlivened by the relationship between Christ and the Church.

But here’s the other thing: Riotists WON’T be homophobic bigots!  Riotists will hold the tension of not agreeing with the lifestyle of family, friends, those who attend their churches, whoever, whilst never losing their love for, and help towards those same people.  Why? Because Riotists won’t view someone else’s sin as more icky than their own sin.

Riotism knows that it is possible to hold firm to the biblical understanding of gender, sexuality, marriage and to love those who disagree in word, and diverge in practice from this truth.  Riotism will set the gospel bar high for confessing Christians, but remove the bar altogether for those who come to search. Why?  Because they are under no illusions that the culture was/is/will be Christian.  Riotists don’t expect the world to sign up to the clear biblical teaching and understanding of marriage.  Riotists do expect that Christians will, and that wherever they are with sex, they will be moving in the direction of redemption (and that goes for porn, adultery, lust, and abusive relationships as well).

Riotism: The New Holiness Movement

In response to some of my recent writings, someone declared that he can see a new holiness movement coming.  It was said approvingly and he has a point.  However Riotism will not be a semi-Pelagian try-harder, find-a-second-experience holiness movement.

But anyway, what’s wrong with a new holiness movement? Haven’t we had enough of the old unholiness? Cultural bracket creep has swept up a lot of Christians into attitudes and practices that are a poor reflection of what Jesus and his holy life was  like.

You mean men holy enough not to be addicted to porn or beating their partners?  You mean people holy enough to lay sin aside, and then use up all that spare time it affords them to do good, especially to the household of faith?  You mean people holy enough to let go of a grudge and forgive? To stop slandering and speak words that build up? Holy enough to spend their time and money serving others? The only thing threatened by a new holiness movement would be unholiness, surely!

Riotism will be a new holiness movement simply because God says be holy for I am holy.  And sometimes, for those who are culturally savvy, and like to interact with the cultural edge, this will be costly.  It will mean no Game of Thrones.  It will mean no laissez-faire attitude to what we watch, and what we spend our iTunes money on.  It may even mean cutting some friendships that we have maintained “for the sake of reaching them for the gospel” when it is pretty clear by what you are doing on Saturday night at 11:30pm that we are the one being reached by another gospel.

And if that surprises you then chances are you were way too middle class and moral when you were converted.  Chances are you were not like  my church leader Andrew, whose unholy life before his conversion was so toxic, so filled with  toxic people, that the two just couldn’t co-incide, one was just going to kill the other.  He still loves them, but the light of gospel shining out his life makes them run like cockroaches for the comforting darkness of the pantry.

But Riotism won’t just be a “don’t do that” holiness movement.  It will offer a holy community to an increasingly unholy world.  It will both guard its children in holiness, and then send them out in hope that the Holy Spirit will equip them to live and serve in that unholy world.  It will realise that the solution to NOT being overcome by evil, is to overcome evil with good.  It won’t simply say “don’t steal”, but will go on to say “but work with your hands so that you may be generous” (Eph 4:28). It won’t simply say “Don’t empty God’s name of its weight” (the third commandment), but will demonstrate in word and deed that God is indeed weighty, not a mere idol or plaything there to do our bidding or baptise our own desires.

In conclusion, let me point out that Riotism – at least according to how I have mapped it out above – is, if anything, a softer, gentler version of the churches of the New Testament letters. I couldn’t come close to the weight of biblical language.  So if my descriptions seems a trifle over the top, then perhaps you need to reacquaint yourself with the Riotists of  1Corinthians – 2 Thessalonians in all of their squalor and splendour.  Besides them, my words seems positively pedestrian!

And maybe that’s the place to start.  Go on! Read through those letters and ask you self, How far would this missionary movement have gotten in the apostles hadn’t concluded that everywhere they went THEY didn’t need to start a riot, because the gospel would do the job for them. That everywhere they went they would announce Jesus is Lord, and then call those who affirmed this to live riotously holy lives in response.

Wanna start a riot?

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